Today’s big news story is the fatal accident that occurred on the set of a movie called “Rust,” which Alec Baldwin is producing and in which he stars. Baldwin accidentally shot and killed the film’s videographer, Halyna Hutchins, and the same bullet slightly wounded another member of the crew.
This is the kind of news story that, many times, we don’t write about, especially when–as now–the facts are still largely unknown. But I think a few preliminary observations can be made.
Baldwin is understandably taking a lot of grief for this tweet, which he did several years ago:
It feels terrible, as Baldwin is now discovering. Just ask Derek Chauvin.
The facts will come out soon, but meanwhile there are some obvious questions and observations.
* Many news reports have referred to Baldwin firing a “prop gun.” I don’t think it was a prop; it seems clear that it was a real gun.
* Baldwin pointed the gun at Halyna Hutchins and pulled the trigger. There is only one scenario on which this is even remotely acceptable: if they were filming, and the scene called for Baldwin to fire the gun directly at the camera. Maybe that is what happened.
* If not, Baldwin should be in serious legal trouble. You never, never, never point a gun at anyone–let alone point it and pull the trigger!–even if you *know* the gun is unloaded, even if the safety is on, even if your finger is outside the trigger guard. Even for novice firearms people like me, the fact that you never, ever, point a gun at anyone–even if you don’t plan to pull the trigger–is so deeply ingrained that it is hard to understand how anyone could do it.
* If, and only if, they were filming a scene in which Baldwin was to point the gun at the camera and pull the trigger, his conduct is understandable. Even then, as a novice gun person I can’t imagine doing such a thing without personally triple-checking the gun to make sure that the procedure was safe.
* After the accident, Baldwin reportedly said that he had never before been handed a “hot” gun. While acknowledging that usage of firearms terminology is not uniform, I think some news sources may have misinterpreted this anguished comment. To my knowledge, “hot” means that there is a cartridge in the chamber, so that if the trigger is pulled, the gun will fire. The term “loaded” is ambiguous. I use “loaded” to mean that there is a magazine in the pistol, and the magazine contains rounds. The difference is that, with a single-action semi-automatic pistol, you have to rack the slide to make a “loaded” gun “hot.” Others may use those terms differently.
My point is that if Baldwin thought the gun wasn’t “hot,” that could well mean that he thought nothing would happen if he pulled the trigger (again, I am assuming a single-action semi-automatic pistol). This would make no sense if they were filming a scene where he was to shoot directly at the camera–obviously, the gun was supposed to fire when he pulled the trigger–but it could make a lot of sense if he was fooling around, and pointing the firearm at Hutchins as a joke.
* It is almost impossible to understand how anyone on the set who was responsible for firearms could hand an actor a gun that is loaded with regular cartridges. Movie guns fire blanks, which as I understand it are simply regular cartridges with the bullet removed. The negligence involved here is hard to understand, but apparently not unprecedented in the movie world. Alec Baldwin, as producer and star, bears some responsibility for overall safety on the set. And, as noted above, I can’t imagine pointing a firearm at a person and pulling the trigger without personally verifying the operation’s safety.
* That this was a life-ruining disaster for Alec Baldwin, much as the death of George Floyd was a life-ruining disaster for Derek Chauvin, goes without saying. (One obvious difference is that Chauvin likely didn’t kill George Floyd at all, since Floyd had two to three times a lethal overdose of fentanyl in his system, while Baldwin’s bullet unquestionably killed Halyna Hutchins.) But the incident does put some things into perspective. In this photo of Baldwin, talking on the phone after the accident, you can see that he has been wearing a mask and apparently has taken it off to talk on the phone:
It’s nice to know he was keeping everyone safe.
UPDATE: It is being reported that after the incident, a casing was removed from the firearm. So it sounds like a revolver. It is also reported that the person who gave Baldwin the gun said it was “cold,” which in this context presumably means either that it was unloaded or loaded only with blanks, not live ammunition. It is a little hard to understand why they would ever have live ammunition on a movie set. It seems like asking for trouble.
So far I have not seen anything on the key point, i.e., whether they were shooting a scene that required Baldwin to point the gun in the direction he did and required Hutchins to be in the line of fire, or whether Baldwin was doing something else, i.e. fooling around.
By the way, I assume the weapon in question was a handgun rather than a rifle, but I haven’t seen that confirmed anywhere, either. The bottom line is the same: the only circumstance where it would be acceptable for Baldwin to point a firearm in the direction of Ms. Hitchens and pull the trigger, regardless of what he thought about the condition of the firearm, is if they were shooting a scene and he had to point the gun where he did. Even then, I don’t think most people would do that scene without personally checking the gun. I wouldn’t. If it was anything else, Baldwin deserves to be in real trouble. But no doubt those facts will come out soon.